On not taking Jon Langford for granted

by

comment

Jon Langford & Skull Orchard
  • Jon Langford & Skull Orchard
People obsessed with novelty are usually the ones who complain when a music writer revisits a particular subject. For a while in the 90s, certain readers (and even some of my editors) seemed convinced that I wrote about saxophonist Ken Vandermark every week—and though it's true his name came up often because he played so regularly and in so many different contexts, needless to say I did no such thing. These days Vandermark spends so much time touring in Europe that when he plays in Chicago it's almost as if he's a touring artist. Jon Langford is another Chicago musician who does so much that it'd be easy to overcover him, except over the past two decades he's remained as ubiquitous here as ever. He plays with the Waco Brothers, the Mekons, and in a zillion solo settings, including with his hard-rocking band Skull Orchard.

Despite his impeccable pedigree, intelligence, and artistic range, Langford is too often taken for granted—and I've been guilty of it myself. I've wanted to write about Old Devils (Bloodshot), the latest Skull Orchard album, for quite a while, but when space or time was short I put it off, because I knew there'd always be another chance coming up—given that the album came out in August 2010, though, clearly I've been doing that for a little too long. The band plays Friday night at the Hideout, opening for labelmate Andre Williams, who contributed a typically gruff spoken-word intro and outro to Langford's song "Pieces of the Past." Old Devils sounds just as good now as it did a year and a half ago; the latest version of Skull Orchard features guitarist Jim Elkington, and the album also includes some typically beautiful vocal cameos from Sally Timms.

At 54 Langford hasn't tamed his music much at all. On Old Devils he demonstrates a kind of Nick Lowe-style sophistication and breadth: "Death Valley Day," for instance, touches on dreamy 50s pop, and the title track is a twangy ballad with a melody that defies genre classification. Yet he's just as comfortable and credible playing old-school punk rock: "Getting Used to Useless" artfully hijacks the synchronized hand-claps-and-snare-drum intro to the Clash's "Remote Control" as a lead-in to the chorus, and album opener "1234Ever," which you can check out below, has the same kind of no-nonsense chug you can hear in the Waco Brothers.

Jon Langford & Skull Orchard, "1234Ever"

Today's playlist:

Rob, Funky Rob Way (Analog Africa)
Jimmy Heath Sextet, The Thumper (Riverside/OJC)
Trees, On the Shore (Columbia, UK)
Ingebrigt Håker Flaten, Håkon Kornstad, and Jon Christensen, Mitt Hjerte Altid Vanker—1 (Compunctio)
Orchestre Poly-Rythmo, Cotonou Club (Strut)

Add a comment